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Debriefing the MOOC

posted: 8.31.12 by archived

To start my promised report on my MOOC MOOC experience, I’m embarrassed to admit that, like 90% of the students who enroll in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), I did not complete the course.  (You can find this figure, along with much more info about MOOCs, on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s page “What You Need to Know about MOOC’s.”) Given the general attitude that it was fine to jump in and do as much or little as one wished, this was no big deal, and even my limited participation both taught me a lot and raised a lot of questions.

The speed of the course did me in, with so much to read and watch and produce in a single week. The demands of life that prevented me from engaging as deeply as I would have liked served to remind me of the “real-life” pressures my community college students face.  I also reflected on the usefulness of deadlines: to what extent their pressure is necessary to get work done and how they serve the practical need for students to be at similar places in order to share and reflect on each other’s products, but also how the difficulty in meeting one deadline can derail student progress in the entire course. For my own courses, it led me to think about what interventions I might make to help in these types of situations, that seem so common for my students.

Technology. By definition, almost MOOCs are heavy (or is it rich?) with technology, and the MOOC MOOC seemed heavier than most, asking students to Tweet and blog, collaborate on Google docs, create videos, and curate content with Storify. With so much content to digest, the overlay of all of these technology tools was overwhelming to me, even though I had thought myself relatively comfortable with technology. It was making the video on day 3 that slowed me down. We were to make a video that addressed the question Where does learning happen?, which seemed to me a fairly difficult question to tackle, and the cheery instructions didn’t help: If you don’t have a surplus of time, think on your feet. For example, you could decide to give yourself no more than 1 hour to script, shoot, edit, and upload your video. Rather than just turn on my Webcam and have a go at it, I decided to “throw together” a first effort at digital storytelling (see below), and by the time I’d finished the three-minute video four days later I was exhilarated, but out of step with the rest of the course, too exhausted to tackle any other new technologies.  The obvious takeaway for me involved questions about just how much technology I can expect my students to absorb in one semester and how to calibrate that line between exhilaration and exhaustion.

Social connections. Despite the purported opportunities the MOOC gives for forming a sense of community, with all this whiz of social networking going on, I found myself isolated and anonymous. Such connections did happen, though, with experiments, collaborations, and conversations popping up. I dabbled in a few, but for the most part felt those middle-school feelings of being outside of the in-group(s). Though there seemed to be a great potential for interaction, especially given the motivation level of many of these end-of-summer academics, it was also distressingly easy just to slip out of sight. I’m curious as to what extent introversion and extroversion translate from real world to digital world and how this might affect satisfaction and success in a MOOC, or in an online class.

Assessment/response. The MOOC MOOC did not have an assessment component, so I did not really get an answer to my questions about how this might work in a massive course. (Steve Krause, in his continuing series on his MOOC experiences, has a great post about peer review.) The lack of assessment was appropriate for the MOOC MOOC, but it’s a vital issue when I wonder (or worry) about the potential for MOOC-composition or other classes for which extended writing is the major product. I’m starting my next MOOC experience with the ten-week Modern & Contemporary American Poetry shortly, so I’ll be curious to see how peer review works there.

What I learned from the course (beyond what a MOOC is).

  • Digital storytelling. Like Traci, I had great fun with learning how to put together a video, and I plan to try them out in my courses this coming semester (topic for another post). Here’s my rough-cut product:

  • Twitter. Though I’ve had a Twitter account for several years, I hadn’t really had occasion to use it. But Twitter seems to be a main channel of communication in the MOOC world. It was a challenge at first to wade through the chaos, but I’m thinking now about possibilities for experimenting with it in the classes (since my students have their cell phones out anyway).
  • Several ways to curate material (Scoopit and Storify) for later exploration.
  • What it feels like to be a student bombarded with new technologies to learn.

Can any of this apply to FYC? As part of the MOOC MOOC, Dominick Lukeš wrote a comprehensive post on “How to MOOCify Your Course and Why You Should Do It.” While MOOCs seem to me inappropriate for composition classes (due to the retention issue alone), still there’s something that appeals. I’ve been wondering what, if anything, might translate. Is it the excitement and engagement of students I’m seeking? More student responsibility and self-direction? The richness of materials I could be providing? The flexibility of options for “outputs” I could allow? Are there ways to make peer review more central and useful?

In the comments below, please feel free to weigh in with your take on MOOCs and whether they pose a threat or offer promise to the writing classroom.

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Categories: Holly Pappas
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